Originally published in the Union College Magazine, Spring 2013
Traditional Javanese wisdom says that a real man must have a wife, a house, a dagger and a singing dove. It’s this final requirement—still highly prized today—that Jim de Sève explores in his documentary ManDove, which he directed with husband Kian Tjong.
The film follows Indonesian men as they raise perkutut (zebra doves) and enter them in singing competitions. Winning birds not only prove their owners’ masculinity, they also sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
Believed to possess magical abilities, like warning a family of danger, doves are hand-bathed and hand-fed. The cherished birds are also housed in ornate, colorful cages that cost about $800. During competition, these cages are hoisted up on 23-footpoles so that judges can walk beneath, choosing the best singers based on cadence, rhythm and other criteria.
None of this is described outright in the documentary, there is no omniscient narrator. But viewers learn much from the actions of the subjects themselves.
“Audiences are used to a National Geographic-style documentary that makes them privileged viewers,” de Sève said. “We want viewers to want to know more, and experience the curiosity and ambiguity of travel. Thus, we withheld some information.”
ManDove has been screened to acclaim at the Russian Academy of Science, the Flaherty Film Seminar Series in New York City and the Taiwan International Documentary Festival. Learn more at www.singingdove.com.